Up there, look twice. That’s a chimpanzee skeleton. And yesterday, I took a trip to the Darwin exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum where this little chap was on display. In Darwin’s time, the reigning philosophy was that humans were different from animals. So it goes that humans are created in God’s image.
Later at home, I watched Stephen Fry’s discussion with Craig Ferguson and Fry made the astute observation that if an alien were to watch our behaviour, they would perhaps consider torture, murder and violence to be the worst parts of our nature and our capacity to love and to make love (and I would add, our capacity to nurture our young) would be the most wonderful things. Yet the word ‘fuck’ is considered horrific and shocking, while polite society can talk about torture and murder cheerfully in public (Oh, the traffic was MURDER tonight, darling!) How have we got here, that a description of an act which celebrates our humanity, our aliveness and our ability to reproduce is so obscene?
Really, we simply haven’t moved on from that time Darwin lived in, when humans denied their animalness. To be civilised was to live with rituals and trappings and unnatural appearances. And isn’t this how we still live? In a culture which sees body hair as disgusting? Which sees silicon enhanced breasts as perfect and functional breasts as ‘icky’?
Of course some of these things are mere aesthetics and fairly harmless. And some of our rituals serve very valid purposes whether they be to reduce the spread of disease or to keep our chosen sexual partner from rivals.
But there are those which are actively harmful and serve no valid purpose.
No national medical organisation supports routine circumcision for health purposes. Even the American Association of Pediatrics, a deeply conservative organisation doesn’t recommend it. Outside the USA, national health organisations actively argue against the procedure. The Australian College of Paediatrics describes it as ‘a traumatic procedure performed without anaesthesia to remove a normal functional and protective prepuce [foreskin].’
The British Medical Association “does not believe that parental preference alone constitutes sufficient grounds for performing a surgical procedure on a child unable to express his own view.”
Evidence supporting links to ‘penile cancer’ and HIV reduction is shaky to say the least. Penile cancer is an extremely rare condition which almost invariably affects elderly men. HIV transmission should be prevented with a condom. The difference circumcision makes to either condition is questionable. Compared to the severe risks (including infections, adhesions, penile damage, haemmorhage, sexual dysfunction, psychological trauma) this painful surgical procedure carries and the trauma it causes the newborn, it is fairly clear to see that the cons outweigh the pros. The foreskin is not a loose flap of skin, it is a healthy, functioning tissue.
Circumcision was popularised in the USA with the help of Dr Kellogg.
“A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision…The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind…In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement. ” — Dr. John Harvey Kellogg
It bought into the puritanical belief that masturbation was unhealthy and wrong. Yet the practice continued to the modern day, with dubious explanations about ‘hygiene’ or ‘health.’ As can be seen universally by the policy of national professional bodies, circumcision serves no such purpose. It is a cultural and social ritual. In fact, one of the most common reasons given by parents opting for circumcision is ‘So he looks like his daddy’ thus perpetuating the cycle.
But to revisit Darwin, the ‘hygiene’ argument is intriguing. Is circumcision just another way of marking ourselves as separate from animals?
Birth is animal. Parenting is animal. The bond with a new baby is instinctive, fuelled by hormones and chemicals. The protective instinct is overwhelming. How powerful is this social conditioning that it overrides that instinct enough to allow the newborn to be removed from the warmth of his mother and strapped down to a cold table and cut in this way.
My question is this. If we are created in God’s image, surely we arrive in this world perfect. Why taint what God has created with our manmade meddling?